Trains vs. Planes

I’ve had the opportunity through work and cubing to fly a bit.  We’ve also taken the train back to Williston this last Christmas.  Here’s some random thoughts on the subject:

Cost:  The train wins here.  For the cost of maybe two plane tickets, we can actually get the entire family somewhere if we plan far enough ahead.  Of course, if you don’t plan far enough ahead, the train ticket can get really costly.  That’s probably due to the fact that there’s one train provider and many airlines, so the airlines will always have last-minute space.  But we usually plan far enough ahead since we’re compulsive like that.

Destinations:  Planes obviously win here.  With usually one, maybe two connections max, you can be almost anywhere in the US.  The train limits you to a few select towns along a route.  And if you’re having to make a connection, it’s probably a 14-hour layover in Chicago.

Check-in: The TSA hasn’t gotten too involved in the train system, so that’s going to make it better.  When we went to Williston, we had to board at Winona, and it was like a throwback to the 1800’s.  The guy asked for my ID, since I bought the tickets, but we didn’t have to get X-ray’d, we didn’t have to wait in a big line, and he checked out luggage (without cost) with no hassle at all.  He even joked with the girls for a bit and they enjoyed it.  Of course, this is probably just the Winona station.  When we were coming back, the Williston station didn’t have any hassles, but I think they probably said three words to us.

Boarding: With the airlines, you know what you’re going to get.  You know what seat you’ll be in, if you’re by a window, how far from the bathroom, etc.  With the train, you’re not quite sure.  Maybe we could get seats near each other, maybe not.  They have signs that say this section of seats are reserved for couples/groups traveling together, but those were largely ignored by people who wanted to just take two seats and hopefully never have to share.  Also, the airlines have it pretty consistent.  You line up according to your group (I’m always in the last “not first class, not business, and 90% of you are in this group).  In Williston, they conductor just started yelling which cars certain destinations should get on.  And when you try to get in, you have this mad rush of smokers trying to get out for a quick smoke break, and people straggling behind them so you can never be sure when they’re done coming.  I commented to Amie that they should have an open roof smoking train.  Just make the smokers go on that and only have it available at certain times (like when the train is moving.  And no blocking from the wind.  They need to be aired out.

Overhead storage: On the plane, there is always a mad dash to make sure you can get overhead space for your single carryon.  Otherwise you get stuck with gatechecking.  Boo.  On the train, the overhead space was partitioned so it was obvious what space was yours. And the trains was much bigger.  You could fit real big suitcases up there if you wanted to.

Legroom: The train wins here.  We had so much leg room, the girls could be in front of us when we reclined.  There’s also a bunch of room on the floor to store backpacks so you don’t have to go up to the overhead storage to get stuff.

Time: Planes win here.  Even if you have long layovers, you’re still going to be at your destination within a day.  And the layovers are at airports, where you have space to walk around, stores to buy snacks or reading materials at, a variety of restaurants to eat, wifi, sometimes museums or children’s play areas.  At the train station, you have a vending machine that may not work.  And the time on the plane itself is relatively quick.  Once you read the safety information, browse the SkyMall catalog, have the complimentary snack, you’re probably almost done.  On a train, you have to plan on sleeping on that thing.  And it drags on so long.  I think some parents give up parenting on the train.  Some kids run around wild without trying to keep quiet.

Scenery: Some people may say that what you see on the train is similar to what you see in the car.  That’s true when you’re in the country.  The track usually runs along the highway, and you see the same stuff.  But in the city, it’s different.  Some places you have the backlot of really cheap property and you get to see a bunch of things.  Old appliances, broken swingsets, and random garbage.  In the sky, you get to see stuff that you never get to see.  The tops of clouds, cities from above.  I like looking around and seeing the big pictures of cities, and when we get closer, you can see individual buildings.

That’s my random thoughts.

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